The past decade has been the most monumental in terms of the changes that have happened in my life. Ten years ago this week I found out my mother had terminal cancer and less than five months later she was gone. As I reflect, I realize now what a life altering event that was for me, quite possibly the most influential on my life thus far aside from actually being born. It was the guiding beacon that would lead me down life’s path to where I am today….and particularly key in leading me to the plant-based/vegan diet and lifestyle I have been following for 8 years now.
The New Year, and especially new decade, is often a time I choose for introspection and reflection. I’m filled with a rush of conflicting emotions as I contemplate the past ten years. From losing my mom to cancer in 2010, followed by a rough patch but eventually landed on my feet, then losing my dad a short couple of years later, to meeting Anna and welcoming our two wonderful children into our lives, to losing my furry BFF, Murphy the beagle, last year who was with me through it all; from traveling adventures around the world and back, learning about my family roots in Croatia (and I will go to India this coming decade to connect to the other side!), to fulfilling some artistic endeavors while continuing to pursue others, it’s been a wild ride through peaks and valleys, to say the least. Regardless, I’m grateful for the lessons, the love, and the life experiences.
My Mother’s Death:
Nothing can prepare you for losing your mother. It’s a very specific kind of agonizingly painful grief that only those who’ve gone through it can understand. The passing of the one who gave you life and nurtured you in the way only a mother can is one of the worst losses one can experience. And the younger you are when it happens, the more shocking it is. I happened to be very close to my mom and spoke to her almost every day, so it was that much more intense when she was gone. The pain is still there, ebbing and flowing with life’s comings and goings. Sometimes it pops up unexpectedly when I’m driving down the highway, other times it’s the holidays that can trigger a flood of feelings acutely to the surface. But it’s the memories in the making that are most difficult for me to bear. Particularly the experiences she’d never have with the grandkids she never met. If there’s one thing I was most guilty about after she passed it was that I never gave her grandchildren, despite her often badgering me about it. Little did she know, less than 4 years after she passed away, our daughter Amalya would be born.
One of the biggest lessons I learned about grieving during the aftermath of her death was that it’s OK to ask for help. My initial instinct was to shove it down, be strong for my family, but that landed me in some rough waters. It was grief therapy, especially grief support groups, that got me through the darkest times. I’ve gone to grief support groups ever since and it’s been extremely helpful to process the loss with other people in similar situations. Everybody grieves in their own way and that’s OK, but moving forward I now had somewhat of a barometer of when I needed to get some help. And I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to deal with it, have a good cry or laugh or scream or whatever, so you can move on in a healthy way. And other modalities like seeking out my mom’s heritage by upholding promises I made to her in her last few years, they kept her with me and helped keep me moving onward.
You can read about my adventures in discovering my mother’s roots in Croatia here:
My mom’s death wasn’t only an awful experience of grief, guilt and pain, for me it was further marred by this sense of utter helplessness to be able to help her. Terminal cancer is a nasty prognosis to swallow and I can’t even imagine what it must be like to be the one on the receiving end of it, nor do I want to try and even think about it. Being the family member of someone with cancer was way closer than I want to ever be to it. As much as I always thought of myself as “healthy” and someone who ate an impeccable diet, the research I had done after her diagnosis revealed otherwise.
When my mom was diagnosed, with every waking free second I was doing research on how we could fight this thing. From dietary to alternative treatments and supplements, TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), to Ayurveda, and everything in between, I was looking into it. I read medical studies and journals, I watched documentaries and videos of symposiums, spoke to various experts, and more.
The one thing that I could not ignore was that almost all roads I explored led to a more plant-based diet.
Could it be? As someone who firmly believed that those who followed a vegan diet were experiencing some form of insanity, I was taken aback by this discovery. While I tried to get my mom to eat healthier, even made her all sorts of salads and health shakes the last few months, she was too far gone and sadly had given up emotionally by then, so I was unable to save her.
The next several years after that I continued to research obsessively, devour whatever research I could get my hands on, and speak to medical experts – both western and eastern/alternative. I wasn’t going to let any other family member or myself go down this horrible road to a final demise. Watching the human body slowly shut down, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, is excruciating. I held her hand through most of it all the way to the last minute and I don’t recommend anyone suffer through that.
Trust me when I say that no morsel of food, taste sensation or brainwashed cultural diet is worth that kind of suffering.
I had become somewhat of an aficionado at the point when I finally decided that I would attempt to go fully plant-based. I transitioned over the course of a year – going pescatarian (no meat, just seafood), then vegetarian (eggs & dairy allowed), and finally fully plant-based (vegan).
The drastic positive changes in my health and energy levels would not have been possible if I hadn’t switch to plant-based.
I just hit my eighth year of being vegan and I would not be experiencing this level of amazing health if I hadn’t learned those lessons through losing my mom.
It’s interesting how life works that way sometimes. My entire perspective was shattered and shifted to a whole new way of thinking. During this time my compassion for animals and the environment increased exponentially. I was always passionate about animals and nature, but I’m on a whole new level of activism and connectedness that would not have happened if she hadn’t passed the way she did.
Once I was back on my feet, life was good and I met Anna. Sparks went off and the rest, as they say, is history. The universe had us on a fast track that neither of us was prepared for, but we were thrust into it nevertheless. I think we’ve done pretty darn well thus far.
One interesting story that I didn’t find out about until Anna was about six months pregnant, was about my mom watching Dancing with the Stars. My dad told me she and him used to watch DWTS and my mom’s favorite dancer was Anna. I had never seen the show and didn’t know that my parents watched it, so it was quite the shock to me. Once again, funny how the universe works…was my mom working some magic from the beyond?
The Death of My Father:
Anna and I went to visit my dad in St. Louis when she was six months pregnant. It was the first, and only, time she met him. We went to dinner a few times, and she got to chat with him quite a bit as he regaled her with stories of his youth when he dabbled in ballroom dancing, a hidden history of his revealed that I’d never heard before. One week later after we arrived back in LA, we got the call that he had died. Although he wasn’t in the best of health, he wasn’t experiencing any urgent major issues when we saw him, so it was still a shock.
It was another rough go for a month as the family dealt with yet another funeral, then handled the affairs one must manage when a parent dies. It’s an awful and horrible experience, although some part of it is cathartic.
Side Note: I highly recommend that everyone pre-pay and plan their own funerals so as to not burden your living loved ones with it while they are grieving your loss.
Anyway, Anna patiently supported from a distance, I didn’t want her to come and put any undue stress on her or the baby. That was a brutal month we both won’t soon forget.
They say as a man, when your father dies, it’s the final step in coming of age as your own man. I can see where that expression is coming from now. It felt like with the snap of a finger I was thrust into the position of family patriarch a mere few months prior to becoming a father. Heavy stuff to process with pressure to match, but we play the cards we’re dealt, right?
Becoming a Dad:
When Amalya was born, I was ready to be a dad, but nothing can really prepare you for the moment you stare into the eyes of your child for the first time. It seismically shifted me, and especially on the coattails of losing my father, there was a roller coaster of feelings and thoughts to process. Anna and I took a step back from the industry for several months and focused on our family. I’m so glad we did that, it brought us closer together as a new family and helped me get my head screwed on straight.
Here’s a blog post I wrote on my first father’s day: https://nevinmillan.com/2014/06/15/first-fathers-day/
I knew I wanted to be a more involved father than my dad was, but would I be up to the task? Watching this tiny nugget turn into a little human and now a bonafide person with her own wants, needs, and desires is nothing short of magical. As much as I so wish my mom and dad could have met her, would I be as good of a father if I hadn’t gone through the pain of losing my parents? It’s a mind-bending conundrum with no real soothing answer, but nonetheless, definitely makes you think about life’s ups and downs and the grand scheme of it all.
You can read more about one of my parental experiences here: https://nevinmillan.com/2018/01/18/a-precious-moment/
Baby Number 2:
A few years later we welcomed our son, Kaspyan. Building the father-son relationship with him that I didn’t really have with my father has been one of the highlights of my life thus far.
While Amalya is more intense, and just like me – basically a mini-me, Kaspyan is more chill, and kind of the yin to my yang. While I’m enjoying every cuddly moment of the baby/toddler phase, I’m excited for when he’ll be old enough for us to have those man-to-man bonding experiences.
One thing about parenting nobody really tells you beforehand is that you learn as much about yourself and life in general as your kids learn from you, probably more. They’re absorbing so much every moment, learning about how the world works, but I swear I’m learning so much more every single day, and I love it. I’m one lucky man!
Here’s another parenting post about having a 2nd child: https://nevinmillan.com/2017/10/02/love-for-a-second-child/
The years in between those major life events I regrouped, recalibrated, adjusted to the new normal. There’s no doubt I’ve changed as a person, as an artist, and continue to evolve. So many lessons learned, so much life packed into a handful of years.
While I’m sad for those souls who’ve passed on, I’m so eternally grateful for our family and the amazing adventures we’ve had. I can’t wait to see what the next decade brings! Sending love and light to all my friends and family who’ve been there for me during the darkest hours, thick and thin, and into the light.
“Dogs have a way of finding the people who need them, and filling the emptiness we didn’t ever know we had” – Thom Jones
This quote by writer Thom Jones truly explains how it felt when Murphy and I first met. I was in my early twenties in graduate school at the University of Miami. He was a few months old, spunky little puppy from a litter of four Beagles. He had the most personality from all of them, even at that young age. My girlfriend at the time actually noticed him first, but I fell for him hard. We had gone to “just take a look” at puppies, and of course ended up leaving with him. We had been talking about dogs for months, but the stars aligned and Murphy found us that day, that moment. I remember how he curled up in my lap as I drove home to our house in Miami.
I grew up with animals – cats, dogs, hamsters, birds, rabbits – but they were family pets that we all shared. Something felt different about this one – he was mine (and hers) and we were solely responsible for him. I could feel the love bubbling up minutes after we left with him, I was hooked.
Many are curious how we named him…it’s a silly story, but it is what it is. Growing up with a lot of pets, we usually named them based on some physical quality or personality trait. When we sat down to name him, I noticed that the shape of his puppy head looked just like Eddie Murphy’s head (I’m a huge fan of 1980s/90s Eddie Murphy!). We first considered ‘Eddie’, but decided that didn’t work. When we said ‘Murphy’ out loud, it was perfect.
MURPHY THE PUPPY
For any Beagle parents out there, you know the challenges we faced, but at the time we didn’t quite fully understand what we had gotten ourselves into until we were in it. Beagles are arguably the most adorable puppies with their puppy eyes, prominent little snouts, and massive ears, but wow are they rambunctious and curious beyond anything I had ever encountered. The first couple of nights were brutal because we were “crate training” and he howled almost the entire night. We finally gave in and he ended up in bed with us. Little did I know, almost 18 years later I’d still be snuggling up with my furry best friend.
We were diligent with his puppy training – potty training, obedience training, etc. He would run loose in puppy class and all the other dogs would follow suit. The little guy loved to play and loved being chased, which would carry on throughout his life. But one thing started to stand out – this guy was smart, like really clever. He outsmarted our backyard and dug under a fence to escape – my mom referred to him as our “little rascal Houdini”. He knew just how to work us to get what he wanted – a lesson I’d learn from him and apply to my acting years later. He had become our guide, both physically as well as spiritually. There was a soul and life behind his eyes unlike I had ever noticed in an animal friend before. There was a playful buoyancy to him that was just like a little boy around 5 years old but mixed with a sage elder statesman who knew about life, love, and the beyond. He tapped into a part of my soul and heart that I didn’t know was there and brought out a side of me that I didn’t know I was capable of.
While I always knew I wanted to be a dad one day, aside from helping out a lot with my younger sister growing up, Murphy was my first foray into this phase of life. Not long after he joined us, 9/11 happened. I remember sitting there on my sofa holding him tight wondering what would happen to our world, to society. I wanted to protect him from the potential dangers. Watching the towers falls, the tears from my eyes landed on his little puppy head as I caressed him and promised him I’d keep him safe forever.
MURPHY THE YOUNG BUCK
A couple of years later, Murphy had grown into a strapping lad, clever as can be. He had become quite adept at begging for treats, and tricking us into leaving our food unattended then snatching a bite or two in a moment when we weren’t looking. By that time the relationship with my girlfriend ended, but we both moved to Los Angeles and co-parented him. I was lucky enough to find a house in the middle of Hollywood with a pretty big yard, so his Hollywood years were filled with running around baying (the specific sound only a Beagle makes!) at squirrels and possums.
We’d run to Runyon Canyon and back, go on jogs, hikes, cafes, restaurants, you name it, this dog and I were all over LA attached at the hip. A couple of times he did manage to escape the fence enclosure of our yard and I caught him prancing on the sidewalk next to Sunset Boulevard like a show pony or digging through the neighbor’s cat food. But for the most part, we were buds that spent days and nights together. I remember cuddling with him at night and by the next morning he had claimed 90% of the bed while I was pushed into a little sliver at the edge almost falling off. But I’d wake up smiling every day and for that it was worth it!
One of the most unique aspects about Murphy and our relationship was how we affected other people. While he was still alive, but also after he passed, many people sent me messages about how we inspired them to get a dog. They saw our palpable connection and wanted to find that as well – because I think in life, it’s what we all strive for anyway, isn’t it? Whether it’s to other humans or animals or whatever… that deep love, that prescient bond – isn’t that what life’s about? I haven’t counted, but it’s got to be close to twenty or so, and that’s just the people that told me, I’m sure there are more that haven’t yet mentioned it to me. I’m so moved at how he and I had that kind of affect for people.
Murphy was one of those beings that had a distinct presence; you knew when he entered a room, unless he didn’t want you to know and he was in spy-mode, gathering reconnaissance for his latest “Operation Steal Food” mission. At any moment he was capable of loving on you, coercing for a neck rub, begging for a morsel of your food, or prompting you to chase him. But it’s the tough times he was there for me that I’ll always remember.
When my mom got diagnosed with cancer, I was in shock and denial as many people are when that happens. But my brother and I cancelled our lease in LA, put our stuff in storage, hopped in the car with Murphy and drove cross country back to St. Louis to be with her. Those 4 months were some of the toughest I’ve had thus far in my life and Murphy kept me solid through all of it. Knowing I had to be responsible for him, walks, feeding, exercise, and more – it kept me going. He was that bright beacon of life when I was cloaked in despair. I even took him to the hospice facility she was in a few times to cheer her up, and some of the other patients too.
When I came back to the house in the middle of the night after she passed, I held him tight and cried my heart out. It was a private moment, one of countless, that I had shared with him, and only him. I hugged him tight because of the grief of having just lost my mother whom I was very close to, but also because being freshly faced with the finality and permanence of death reminded me that one day I’d live to lose him too, and I couldn’t bear the thought of it.
Fast forward a couple more years… I meet Anna, who unbeknownst to me at the time would become my life partner and mother to my children. When he first met her he went bonkers – he’d put on shows for her, running around the room, jumping on the sofa, chasing his tail – it was hilarious. Then he’d nuzzle up to her. Murphy had become somewhat of a litmus test for my dating life – if he didn’t like someone or someone didn’t like him, it was never going to happen. But he definitely gave his “bone-a-fied”, “paw of approval” with her! ;-P
When we got pregnant and planned to move in with each other, we hit a snag. Anna was allergic to most dogs, and while she did love Murphy, she could only take him in doses and being in a house all day with him would prove to be extremely difficult. It had become a situation that I didn’t know how we’d get through. Murphy and I were a package deal, he was an extension of me, so he goes where I go, but this concept was a bit tough for someone who has never had a pet to understand. We tried keeping him outside in the yard for longer stretches, but that lasted barely a day due to his incessant barking and howling – he belonged inside with his family and he and I both knew it! I promised her I’d figure it out.
I bought very fancy air purifiers and had her try a bunch of homeopathic pet allergy treatments. We kept him quarantined to one part of the house and over the course of a month, widened out that area to where he eventually had free reign, except for the master bedroom. By the grace of the universe, Anna acclimated to him and disaster averted! While I had to give up the night snuggles with him, it was a compromise and our family is better for it. She had thought she could never have a pet, and this gift he gave her was truly beautiful. She grew to love him and built her own connection with him and it was lovely to witness.
When my father passed away a few months before Amalya was born and right in the thick of Anna and I trying to figure out this situation, Murphy once again was there for me. I had to leave him with a friend while I went back to St. Louis to deal with the aftermath of my father’s affairs, but when I came back I really leaned on him emotionally. I was becoming a father, but no father to look to for guidance. It was a terrifying time and the holidays were upon us by then. I remember locking myself in a room with Murphy and refusing to come out…I didn’t want to deal with anyone or anything except him. He was the only thing I felt I could rely on in that dark time, and we were a team, us against the world.
I’m still trying to get my bearings without him. Adjusting to life without someone that I’ve been basically inseparable from and shared intimate parts of my life with for almost 18 years is tough. It’s difficult to capture in words, but it’s like losing an arm or something. Life will go on and I’ll figure it out, but a piece of me will always be aching, I’ll just learn to live with that ache.
As Murphy got up there in age, I had always thought the ship had sailed for him to ever meet my kids. But as some may know, our first little bundle of joy was a bit of a surprise. So not only was I ecstatic (and terrified!) about becoming a dad, I was even more excited for that child to meet my best friend and it filled me with such joy.
The relationship that Amalya developed with Murphy was amazing. From the beginning she loved him so much she’d smother him with love and hugs and kisses. He was a bit standoffish, not crazy about her, but he tolerated her. She affectionately referred to him as “Boppy” when she was learning to speak. Over the course of a few years, he steadily warmed up to her and by the end of his life he truly did love her, I saw it and loved every second of it. Our second child, Kaspyan, also grew to love him. He called Murphy “Gaga”, so adorable. He lay with him, pet him, it was so sweet. I’m grateful he got to meet and be affected by Murphy, however I can’t help but be a little sad about him not getting more time with my best friend.
Murphy had a plethora of nicknames. ‘Murph-dog’ or ‘The Gentleman’ were the most common. He’s also been known as ‘Man’, ‘the Monkey’, ‘Murphalufugus’, Murph-its, or simply Murph as many knew him as. One friend used to bizarrely refer to him as ‘Bruce’. Aside from the silly names, he was just my main dude, my little man.
Oh, the outfits I put this guy in, despite his “Are you f-ing kidding me Dad?” looks, ha! But he did love his sweaters when he was older and we went to snowy areas. I always had a fantasy of making a calendar of him as different characters from movies – like the ridiculous dog owners do in the movie “Best in Show”. I envisioned him dressed as Indiana Jones – aka “Indiana Bones” – but I could never find the right outfit anywhere, and never motivated enough to make my own. I guess some other dog in the future will have to bear the brunt of my dog-dress up obsession. For now torturing my kids with dress up photo shoots will suffice.
At one point when I was still in Miami, a “dog agent” spotted Murphy at a park and thought he had some great markings and wanted to get him trained to be a set dog. We looked into it, but the time and financial investment wasn’t worth it. But a few years later when I was in LA producing and starring in my first short film in 2005, the director and I stuck Murphy in a scene and he was great! (you can view the short here: https://vimeo.com/nevinmillan/balance)
Several years later he was in the opening credits sequence of a comedy pilot I co-produced starring Fred Savage and Stephen Weber called “Being Bin Laden”. And finally, he was most recently in a project I acted in this summer. They were viral marketing videos connected to a movie called “Alien Theory”. The videos haven’t been released yet, but when they are, I’ll be sure to link to them here. You can view his IMDb page here: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm2385243/
I’d also rehearse acting scenes with him – dogs are quite present and in the moment, so I’d read to him with a voice recording of the other lines and he would be right there with me, haha…maybe a little confused, but super interested!
I’ve taken road trips all over this country and even some of Europe. I think the only places in the US I haven’t driven extensively is the Northwest, Alaska and very north Northeast. For many of those US trips, I had my furry co-pilot in tow.
One of the most epic road trips of my life was one I took with him a few months after my mother passed away. I was making my way back to Los Angeles after being gone for awhile. Two road warriors taking on the American west, we even had matching collar/wrist cuff!
I left St. Louis, Missouri, went up through Iowa, Minnesota, and into South Dakota where my car broke down. The adventures we had during this road trip were so significant that I’ve written a screenplay and working on a novel loosely inspired by our experience. It’s too long to get into on this post, but due to the car breaking down we ended up being stranded in South Dakota for much longer than I had planned and we hiked all over the Black Hills, saw Mount Rushmore, slept under the stars together, communed with strangers, made friends, ran alongside a Bison farm, toured Custer State Park, went to Deadwood and got caught up in the famous Sturgis Bike Rally. After that we hiked the Rocky Mountains, Badlands, Grand Canyon, quick hike in Utah, Joshua Tree, and we even stopped in Vegas for a few nights (a friend was staying in a dog-friendly hotel and we met up). All in all, the journey was epic and he was my partner through all of it.
One time when we were hiking in the Rocky Mountains – we were on a trail in one of the National Forests and I guess the trail wasn’t the best marked, so I got kind of lost. The sun was going to set soon and I was trying to find my way back down to the trailhead, but kept getting turned around. This was in 2010 so cell phone signals weren’t as good and GPS wasn’t working. I kept trying to go in one direction, but Murphy kept leading me the opposite way. I was certain I was headed the right direction but he refused to follow me. He literally pulled me the other way. I finally gave in and followed him…low and behold, he was right! He guided me out of a sticky situation that could’ve ended up much worse; we were in the middle of nowhere Rocky Mountains outside of Boulder.
Other than that mishap and dealing with the broken down car, some of the best times I’ve ever had in my life were on that trip. Sleeping in the open air with my best friend, pondering life, wondering what the future would bring. I don’t know what else could come close to that level of simple bliss. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that level of loyalty and companionship with another being or soul in my life, thus far. He knew I needed this experience, and he stepped up to the plate and knocked my life back into place.
CARS & BOATS
When I arrived back to LA after my mom passed, and after that epic road trip adventure, our journey back to normalcy was just beginning. I had arranged to crash at a friend’s place for a few months while I got back on my feet. Unfortunately due to unforeseen circumstances, that arrangement fell through last minute, leaving me high and dry. I had spent most of my savings on alternative treatments for my mother (which are not covered by insurance) and sustaining my family and myself during that time and I was not bringing in any income, so the coffers were pretty low. To make matters worse, that time was shortly after the financial collapse of 2008, which my family did not come out of very well. Things were tight all around, financially. And as anyone who has lived in LA knows, finding a place to live is not easy, especially if you’re a jobless thespian. I ended up finding a perfect place, but it wasn’t going to become available for another 5 months or so.
I managed to couch surf for a few weeks at friends’ places that were dog friendly, but those opportunities eventually dried up. I popped into a cheap motel every now and then, but in LA they are not that “cheap” and most are not dog friendly. So for about a month and a half, I ended up living out of my car. Yes, Murphy and I were basically homeless.
It’s illegal in LA to sleep in your car, so I’d have to drive up into the Hollywood Hills and stealthily sleep in my car on small side streets amongst the uber-affluent (ironically). I made a bed of blankets in the back of my beat up old Jeep Grand Cherokee on top of my belongings and Murphy and I cuddled up together night after night. I never told anyone about this, I was too ashamed.
Many friends had places I could crash, but none of them were dog friendly. Every now and then a night or two would work out somewhere, but it was never a long stretch. And I didn’t want to put him up in a boarding place either, nor could I have afforded it at the time. He was my responsibility and I’d stick with him no matter what, that’s how we rolled.
I would wake up and workout at parks in the morning, freshen up in park bathrooms, post up at a coffee shop and apply to jobs from my computer, do graphic/web/design work, go to meetings, auditions, making sure everywhere I went was dog friendly. Aside from dealing with the fallout of loved ones dying, it was the most challenging time of my life.
Finally after about six weeks of that, a friend’s dad allowed me to stay on his sailboat in Marina Del Rey in exchange for graphic and web design work. So for about another six weeks, Murphy and I lived on a boat together, and it was pretty damn amazing. Little trivia here – the boat we lived on was the very same boat that was used at the end of the movie “50 First Dates”. Anyway, he and I slept so well rocking to sleep on the water and as small as that boat cabin was, I was so appreciative to not be sleeping in the back of my car.
When that arrangement ended, some lovely friends who I hadn’t been in contact with reconnected with me and they let me crash at their dog friendly house for a couple of months until the apartment I had been waiting for became available. Life has had many ups and downs, and this experience was filled with many downs, but through all of it Murphy and I were a team, inseparable, unrelenting, indivisible. I shed many tears of shame clutching him tightly at night under the covers in the back of that Jeep, questioning every decision I had made in life that had led me to that situation. I’ve grown now to appreciate those moments, as tough as they were.
While Murphy was generally a really healthy dog for most of his life, he did have his share of health scares. In 2012 a weird growth that popped up on his neck tested positive as cancerous. He had an operation to have it removed. It went well and he survived and thrived for another 6 years! He had a couple of bouts with pancreatitis, which I subsequently circumvented by giving him digestive enzymes for the last 5 or 6 years of his life, along with a low fat diet. In addition I switched him to a raw diet, which helped tremendously – most people couldn’t believe his age when I told them and I attribute it to his diet and supplements. There’s also a seaweed based supplement (GreenMin by Dr. Dobias – https://www.amazon.com/DR-DOBIAS-GreenMin-Dogs-Supplement/dp/B01AB643UK ) I had him on as well as a turmeric paste recipe that I’d mix into his food (join this FB group for details on how to make it: https://www.facebook.com/groups/415313751866609/?fref=nf ).
The last few years of his life he dealt with blindness and hip dysplasia that were getting progressively worse. The last year we had a dog chiropractor do adjustments on him, which really helped a lot with his mobility. All in all, I was lucky he was so healthy and ultimately in the end his physical body just gave out from old age.
Using a “dog year estimator” online that calculates the approximate age based on breed, gender, and geographic location, his dog year equivalent was roughly 100 years old…now THAT’s a good life indeed.
As a musician, naturally music has always been a major part of my life. From his puppy stages, I began playing guitar, piano, and singing around him. At first he was a little scared and apprehensive of the loud sounds, but then he grew used to it and sat near me whenever I played. As he got a little older, the music soothed him. For the remainder of his life, whenever I’d play he would curl up and nap near me, snoring away. If I would stop playing he would lift his head and look at me with an expression that read, “Why’d you stop??” I’d continue playing and he would lay his head back down and go back to sleep. It was adorable. I have so many fond memories of just serenading him and both of us in blissful peace. No judgments or other complexities, just two best friends innocently loving music together and enjoying each other’s company. Not sure if that experience is possible with a human (other than small babies).
The night before Murphy’s memorial service I could not sleep at all. We had the remains of his physical vessel (for private reasons, I won’t be sharing any details as to what form those remains were in) readied for burial, so it was the last night I would be under the same roof with that physical representation of my best friend. At around 2 AM I took my guitar, sat next to the container and played for him one last time. The session went until about 5 AM. I was in tears the whole time and even learned parts of Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven”. It was therapeutic for me and I know somewhere Murphy heard me and enjoyed it in peaceful bliss as always.
I’ve always found that focusing on gratitude has helped so much during times of deep pain, like a warm, uplifting blanket against the dark, cold abyss of guilt ridden grief. To the universe, the mysterious unknown force that brought us together, I am eternally grateful. I am forever thankful for all my friends, roommates, family, veterinarians, and kind strangers who helped and loved Murphy through the years. And most of all, thank you to Murphy, the kind, loving, adventurous soul who taught me so much about love, life, responsibility, and loyalty. I’ve learned more about being human from him than any other living thing in my life…although my (human) kids are probably tied with him at this point. I am one lucky dude to have received the gift of his companionship and love for as long as I did. I’m a better man, father, and all around human because of Murphy and fewer experiences in this world are more profound than that. What more could one ask for?
What does it mean to be a loyal companion? How does one truly practice unconditional love? Murphy taught me the answers to these questions. I don’t know that I will ever live up to those answers the way he did, but I will certainly spend the rest of my life honoring him by attempting to.
The love shared with a pet is unlike any other kind of relationship in our lives. It’s pure, symbiotic and reciprocal in a way that is so personal, private and straight through the center of your heart without any of the baggage. While the love for a human child is the closest thing to it, it’s different because a) you don’t expect to outlive your children and b) the kids grow to become independent adults that aren’t as reliant on the parent. To lie down next to your pet and stare deep into each other’s eyes is like having your souls shake hands and embrace in that moment with no worries or interference from anything else. Staring into a newborn baby’s eyes is quite similar, actually, but they grow so quickly out of that stage, whereas you can connect to a pet like this for the duration of their way too short, but wonderfully significant lives.
The loss of this deep connection is real and it is tough. I’m honestly struggling more with it than when I lost my father. For anyone going through a similar loss, I highly recommend pet loss grief support groups – I’m going to one every 2 weeks. And speaking to a pet loss therapist privately is helpful during the more acute bouts with grief – I had 3 private sessions in the weeks right after Murphy passed. The memorial service we held for him helped a ton in saying goodbye, not only for me, but also for the whole family and some close friends who knew him well. I’ve ordered mementos and keepsakes from Etsy.com and photos that I’m starting to hang up around the house. I’m also developing a children’s book series based on him. I’ve found that looking at photos and videos of him has been super helpful as well.
Some days are good and I’m at peace with the circle of life and happy that he is no longer struggling to walk and see, no longer in pain. But other days I can barely go 30 min without drowning in tears. And that’s how it goes with grief. I often think about my parents, and others I’ve lost along the way, and now Murphy will be part of those reminiscings too. I’ve found that the only solace to losing loved ones is knowing I’ll have quite the welcome party when it’s my turn to transition to the other side. Somehow the idea of that ever so slightly chips away at the fear of my own mortality.
There’s a poem by an unknown author about a “Rainbow Bridge” that I came across shortly after he passed that I’d like to share. It’s a lovely sentiment that brings such warmth to my heart when I think of it.
Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.
There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.
There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor.
Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.
The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance.
His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers.
Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again.
The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together….
See you at the Rainbow Bridge, Murph.
Anna, my partner, and I recently announced the birth of our second child shortly after our son Kaspyan was born healthy into the loving embrace of his welcoming family. We are so enamored and borderline obsessed with our daughter that in the back of my mind, I had wondered whether the moment of his birth would be as profound for me as hers was. Would I shed tears of joy like I did the first time? Would I hold him with as much unconditional love as I had for her during those precious first moments and thereafter? I honestly did not know what to expect. It’s a facet of life I had never really thought about until we found out we were expecting again. My heart was bursting from seam to seam with adoration for my first born, Amalya, that I could not conceive of how my heart could even handle another child. I do have a hairy kid in the form of my male Beagle named Murphy, whom I love dearly, but I knew having a human child would be a whole new level (and it is), so there wasn’t the same mystery to me the first time around as there was with the expectation of a second child.
As his harmonious first cries echoed in our bathroom (Anna opted for a home, water birth) while our eyes gazed upon him for the first time, the reaction was just as life altering as it was the first time. Anna and I both rejoiced in tears of pure joy… a feeling I can count on one hand how many times I’ve experienced to that level. When I held him for the first time, something interesting happened. I looked into his eyes and I felt a strange mix of emotions bubbling inside. Of course I was ecstatic to be holding my healthy newborn son, but a part of me almost felt as though I was neglecting or in some way “cheating” on my love for my first-born daughter. A strange sense of guilt was brewing inside that I had not expected and was quite perplexed to be experiencing. It’s difficult to articulate accurately, but it was as if my heart and soul were in a temporary confused state of trying to adjust and come to grips with the profundity of what had just happened. I was moving from “how in the world is it going to be possible to love another child this much? Will my heart explode?” to “This is how…”
With Amalya it was instantaneous. I held her for the first time and looked into her eyes and the flame of deep parental love had ignited, bursting my heart ablaze. But with Kaspyan, it was more of a slow burn for the first few days. The flame was lit of course, but it’s as if my inner soul was saying, “OK, we read you loud and clear, just give us a minute to make some room in here!” Anna, Amalya, and I had such a great camaraderie and chemistry together, what would this new little stranger do to that balance? We will soon find out, and I suspect we will be learning to adjust to that for many years to come.
As hours turned to days, and days to weeks and now at one month since he was born, I have been amazed at how exponentially fast my heart has expanded to accommodate the love for my second child. I finally have my answer. The capacity for love is not finite, but rather infinite in its capability. My heart’s capacity to love unconditionally literally increased to accommodate my second child, whom I am now thoroughly obsessed with on a level I never even thought possible. I can’t wait to see him, give a ton of snuggles and watch him discover the world. And when he wakes up at night, despite my weary, tired eyes, I smile from ear to ear and tend to him with excitement because…well, Love. It really is an incredible feeling to experience!
The lesson is that this concept of Love, whether it’s parental, romantic, or platonic, knows no bounds. But more importantly, I think it’s the capability of receiving that love that can help open those gates. The more I postulated about it, the more I realized that maybe it was I that needed to prepare myself for receiving the love from my second child. I am still getting used to Amalya running up to me, hugging my leg saying, “I love you, Papa!” It’s so sweet and makes my heart skip a beat every time, so maybe I’m still adjusting to all this? While I won’t go into the details here, I will say that my home life growing up was not so gilded in declarations of adoration, quite the opposite actually. So, this new life of mine I have created, as lovely and loving as it is, remains a foreign land that I’m still getting used to, so adjusting to it is a natural process, I suppose.
Love can be such an enigmatic subject to think about, much less write about, but this parental love capacity is something that had been bouncing around in my mind for months, that I thought I’d see what else was out there.
Dr. Ellen Weber wrote a blog post in Psychology Today about love and favoritism of children when parenting. Her conclusion is that parents my favor certain children during various stages of their development. For instance, one parent may love the infancy stage while another may only prefer the toddler years, and so on. So, it can flip flop. While I have yet to figure out all of that yet, I can see how certain stages might appeal to certain aspects of a particular parent’s personality. That being said, I think having an equal unconditional love baseline for all your children is important. Whether or not you like or prefer a certain stage they’re in should not affect the overall love, at least I’m pretty sure it won’t with me.
Dr. Gayle Peterson writes in her blog about how you won’t really love your kids equally because your kids will all be different and will require their own unique brand of love from each parent. While I think that’s true to some extent, there’s still that baseline foundation of unconditional, parental love that should blanket your whole brood, however many there are. The kind of love that wants to protect them, provide for them, comfort them and prepare them for the trials and tribulations of life.
I leave you with this wisdom from an article about the Dalai Lama’s insight into parenting:
“A child cannot survive without the care of others; love is its most important nourishment. The allaying of the child’s many fears and the healthy development of its self-confidence depend directly upon love.”
In honor of the return of epic TV Show, Game of Thrones, for their 7th season, I’d like to share the story of my close brush with the show, which should answer some questions I’ve received regarding the GoT photos of me playing a Dothraki character (see photo).
The photos are from a commercial I did for HBO, AT&T and Game of Thrones a couple years ago (commercial can be viewed below). I worked with HBO execs and several of the behind the scenes team from the actual show, including makeup, hair, weapons, and wardrobe… yes, that is a legit Dothraki wardrobe from the set! AND I got to wield an actual Dothraki sword from the show’s weapons master, Tommy Dunne, who actually designed and made them. Being an actor who enjoys doing my own stunts, I’ve developed quite the affinity for swords and weapons, so that was pretty rad, especially because I’m such a HUGE fan of the show!
Of course my reps and I attempted to parlay this experience into an appearance on the show. With much tenacity by my agent and much prodding from my end, I was able audition for season 6 for one of the Khals. If you’ve seen Season 6, it was for the scene in the Dothraki temple when the “Great Khals” are meeting to discuss important matters. I got several auditions deep into it, including submitting a read in the Dothraki language, but ultimately it didn’t work out. Last fall (2016), however, they brought me back in to audition for a recurring role on Season 7. This time around, I DID book the part, woohoo!! But due to some last minute schedule changes, it became logistically impossible for me to get to the set in time since I was in LA. So, unfortunately they had to go with someone more local to the set. While it was a total bummer having gotten that close to being on the show and having the opportunity taken away at the last minute (we were literally making travel plans one minute, and the next morning it was over), I take solace in the fact that I booked a recurring role on the top show on the planet and I’m super grateful for the entire experience.
It’s been exciting to have come this close to being on a such an amazing, renowned show, and an honor to be only the 4th American actor to don an official GoT costume (behind badass cast members Jason Momoa, Peter Dinklage, and Pedro Pascal). So, keep your fingers crossed for a season 8 appearance! I’ll be sure to update on my website as well as social media if and when that happens.
NOTE: Updated September 2020 (edits notated)
I’ve had many friends and associates interested in my fancy morning health elixir, so I thought I’d share with anyone and everyone that’s interested. It is 100% vegan and gluten free, and if you procure the proper ingredients, it can be almost 100% organic as well. You should be able to find everything in shops around town or Amazon.com. In no time, you can have your very own naturopathic apothecary in your kitchen, ready to whip up this elixir at moment’s notice.
As with any health-related supplements, always check with your doctor before starting a new supplement regimen, especially if you have a special condition or take any medications.
This elixir, or tonic, was formulated from research on home remedy and naturopathic healing ingredients. It’s an acquired taste and takes some getting used to, but I have options for palatability at the bottom. It may remind you of grandpa’s sarsaparilla, but it’ll get your body movin’ and shakin’ soon after you get it down the hatch. Take your time drinking it though, because you don’t want to overload your kidneys! Shortly after I wake up, I make the concoction and then usually sip on it over 20-30 min. To get an even quicker start in the AM, you could have it ready by your bedside by making it the night before. But I would recommend keeping it in the refrigerator if it’s pre-made.
I use a 22 oz glass bottle to mix in and drink from, but of course use whatever you deem appropriate. As I mentioned, the elixir’s taste is a little on the harsh side, especially when you first start, so a larger drinking vessel might help to dilute the harshness a bit. Eventually you get used to it and the health benefits are more than worth it. One note, it’s best if you have a straw or a lid that allows you to suck or pour the elixir into your mouth. This is because the apple cider vinegar could be harmful to tooth enamel if there’s too much exposure. In addition, the turmeric is staining to the teeth. Basically, don’t swish this stuff in your mouth, get it down as fast as possible to minimize tooth contact.
Drink it first thing in the morning before you ingest anything else (besides water).
To Mix PLEASE NOTE: Once you’ve added everything in there, you can close the lid and shake it up to mix the contents, but proceed with caution because the baking soda will cause an explosion if you shake too hard without pressure release! What I do is close the lid, give a couple of gentle shakes then open it…. It then makes a “pop” sound to release the air. I do that a few times and it’s mixed up enough. The other option would be to take a long spoon and just mix it manually.
The Health Elixir Recipe:
(ingredients that are linked will link to the item I use or recommend on Amazon.com)
- Water – roughly 14 oz – filtered or bottled. Room temperature or slightly warm is best from a health perspective, but it’s easier to drink if it’s slightly cool, so do whatever suits your level of tolerance. Optional: Coconut /Cactus /Maple water – you can mix and match, do half filtered water, half coconut, etc., have fun with it! As mentioned, you can use more water if you want to dilute it or less if you want to just get it down quicker and don’t mind the intensity.
- Apple Cider Vinegar – 1 or 2 oz, depending on how much you can tolerate in terms of taste. The ACV will help neutralize the acid in your body and help with skin, digestion, and all sorts of other benefits. Bragg’s Organic Raw
- Aloe Vera Juice – 2 oz – Aids digestion, supports immune function and can help normalize blood sugar levels. George’s 100% unfiltered is my Aloe Vera Juice of choice at the moment.
- MCT Oil – 1 TBS – There are a zillion articles online about the myriad of benefits to MCT oil, a concentrated version of coconut and palm oils. (SIDE NOTE: Palm oil is a controversial product due to the destruction of habitat and other issues, so be sure to make sure your MCT oil, if it has palm oil, is sustainably sourced… the one I recommend is. Read more about the palm oil issue here.) If you’re not used to ingesting MCT Oil, it can cause a little digestive discomfort at first, so start off with just a little, like ½ or 1 TSP, and work your way up to the full amount over the course of a few weeks – 1 TBS. The MCT oil I recommend is from Wild Foods, a combination of the C8 & C10 forms of MCT – the C8 benefits brain function whereas the C10 benefits skeletal muscle. However, many people seem to like the pure C8 version of MCT by Bulletproof called Brain Octane. Choose whichever floats your boat!
EDIT: I no longer take MCT Oil. It might work for some people, but after awhile it wasn’t working for me. A good substitution would be some CBD Oil, although I don’t personally take that on a regular basis. See some substitutions below.
- Himalayan Pink Salt – ¼ to ½ TSP or couple of pinches – the many beneficial minerals will help balance and flush your adrenals. Sherpa Pink Gourmet Himalayan Salt is a good, clean option, but most grocery stores have it nowadays. I vary the amount based on my intermittent fasting schedule – the longer I’ve been fasting, the more salt (but no more than 1/2 tsp).
- Cayenne Pepper Powder (organic) – couple of pinches – Cayenne helps with boosting metabolism, which can get your day off to a great start. You can get this at any grocery store. This is OPTIONAL. I only use this occasionally when I feel I need a kick.
- Turmeric Powder (organic) – 1 TSP – Turmeric is one of the most powerful healing foods nature provides for us. It basically cures everything. I ingest it as much as possible. But in order for it to have any efficacy, it needs to be combined with black pepper and a source of healthy fat. For the purpose of this elixir, it will help reduce inflammation and improve nutrient absorption. You can get this at any grocery store.
EDIT: Alternatively, you could make a turmeric paste (plenty of recipes on the web) – it consists of turmeric, black pepper, and an oil – and put that in your elixir or smoothie in place of the turmeric, oil, and black pepper in this recipe.
- Ginger Powder (organic) – 1 TSP – Ginger is another one of nature’s super powered foods. Like it’s orange cousin, turmeric, it has a ton of health benefits. For this elixir, it is included to help support immune function and to aid in digestion and nutrient absorption. You can get this at any grocery store.
- Black Pepper (organic) – couple of pinches – This seemingly tame condiment can work some magic! It assists in turmeric absorption and efficacy while also boosting metabolism. You can get this at any grocery store. It’s most effective when you get the kernels that need to be freshly ground, which makes the nutrients more potent.
- Baking Soda (natural, not synthetic) – ½ TSP – this helps regulate the body’s ph and there are countless anecdotal stories and evidence on baking soda’s ability to annihilate everything from cancer and tumors to the basic common cold & flu. I ingest it daily and when I feel like I’m coming down with something, I take a little more throughout the day. Bob’s Red Mill has some great baking soda carved from a mountain by Paul Bunyon’s great great grandson.
EDIT: I have stopped taking the baking soda on a daily basis. I felt my body was sufficiently alkaline due to my diet, so I didn’t really need this as much. However, when I feel like I need it or if I go off the rails on diet, I’ll definitely have this in my arsenal. Bottom line – use as needed!
- Vitamin C (naturally sourced, not synthetic) – ½ TSP – Most standalone vitamin C products in the marketplace as well as combo vitamin C in multivitamins, ESPECIALLY “Emergen-C”, are made synthetically and essentially useless garbage. Your body struggles to absorb it and most is excreted, which also puts strain on your liver and kidneys. So when taking Vitamin C, it’s important to take it from a natural source. It will boost immune function and help reduce cortisol when combined with potassium which will ease adrenal fatigue. You can use a couple of freshly squeezed oranges, or opt for a powdered form supplement such as the one by Healthforce Nutritionals. I usually hop on and off of this one every couple of weeks or rotate based on stress levels and immune function necessity (in conjunction with Cream of Tartar). Other good natural sources of Vitamin C: Acerola Berry and Amla Berry – you can get both in powdered form.
- Cream of Tartar – ¼ TSP – when combined with Vitamin C, the potassium in Cream of Tartar will help lower cortisol levels and reduce stress on the adrenals. Most people in our modern society suffer from adrenal fatigue, which can cause a myriad of symptoms, which then become misdiagnosed as all sorts of other absurd “conditions”. I also hop on and off of this one every couple of weeks or rotate based on stress levels (in conjunction with Vitamin C). Spicely has a good, clean version of Cream of Tartar
NOTE: Since I’ve been doing more meditation and yoga, I haven’t felt the need to take this as much. But I incorporate it again if stress levels spike.
- Lemon Juice (organic) – ½ to 1 freshly squeezed lemon – The health benefits to lemon juice in the morning are a plenty. Everything from digestive assistance and electrolytes to liver function and skin and more… this is a no brainer and should be included in every health regimen.
- Astragalus Root (organic) – one dropper (roughly 20-25 droplets) – packed with antioxidants, this plant root has shown evidence of heart health, respiratory benefits, immune system support, as well as anti-aging/longevity and has been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine as an herbal adaptogen. It comes in powdered, capsuled, and liquid forms. I take the liquid and add to my elixirs.
THE LATEST (as of 2020): The Magic of Mushroom Power!
Mushrooms are powerful. They’ve been used medicinally for millenia by many different cultures as treatments for countless conditions. And I’m not just talking about the hallucinogenic kind here – those are great, but not part of the scope of this post. I’m talking about exotic mushrooms from various corners of the world that have now gone mainstream, and for good reason. Here are the ones I currently add to my morning elixir, but there are a TON more out there, so do more research on these fascinating fungi and see what works best for your needs.
CHAGA – I take this antioxidant powerhouse for immune boosting and overall general health. I usually take 1/2 tsp with my elixir, but you can bump that up to 1 tsp if you’re under the weather.
LION’S MANE – this epic sounding fungi will kick your synapses into high gear! It’s great for mental acuity and cognitive function, but with no caffeine. Also helps with immune system. I take about 1/2 tsp regularly, but crank it up to 1 or 1.5 tsp when I need an extra special boost.
REISHI – for even more immune system support, cancer fighting, blood pressure regulation and potential longevity and heart health benefits, take 1 tsp of reishi mushrooms a day. More if you have an acute situation.
Those are the main three I take on a regular basis. There are many more to choose from like Shiitake, Maitake, Porcini, Shimeji, and on and on that offer amazing health benefits. Look them up and see what works best for your specific needs…the mushroom world is your oyster (…mushroom)!
OPTIONAL: For Extra Immune Boost
From time to time, you may feel like your body and immune system are run down or you feel a cold coming on or some other type of infection creeping up. When that happens, you can add a few extra supplements to the elixir to help your body naturally fight it off. Only use when needed and always check with your doctor in case there are any conflicts with meds you’re taking.
Oregano Oil – it’s been used for millennia as a natural antibiotic and remedy for all sorts of ailments, including the common cold and anything fungal related. Start with a few drops, but don’t exceed 5 or 6 drops, it’s super potent! Also, don’t over use it either, as it could negatively affect your ever-important gut flora. I use it when I’m feeling under the weather or if I feel a flare up of candida overgrowth coming on. It’s important to use the Origanum Vulgare form, which is the one used for medicinal purposes. Organic is also recommended. I use the brand Plant Therapy.
Grapefruit Seed Extract – is a natural general antimicrobial and antioxidant that can rid your body of all kinds of infectious microbes including bacterial, viral, and fungal. It offers immune support and can even be used as an antiseptic for wounds. The liquid form, which is what I recommend, is quite potent, so start off with 5 or 6 drops and work your way up to 10 drops over the course of a week or so. Similar to Oil of Oregano, I only use this when needed. For instance during times when I’m feeling like my immune system is down and I feel a virus coming on or if a candida flare up is imminent. Overuse can lead to destruction of your gut flora, so only use when needed. This GSE I use from Nutribiotic is solid.
OPTIONAL: For Taste
Stevia – there are many terrible forms of this natural sweetener flooding the market, so it can be daunting to know what to use. Brands like Truvia are laced with nasty chemicals, so watch out! I prefer the liquid form of stevia, and Trader Joe’s actually has a great organic version. 2 drops should be good, but don’t go past 4 or it might start tasting a little weird.
Honey – always a good sweetener! Use in moderation and be sure to use raw, locally sourced honey. Do not purchase national brands or anything that comes in a bear shaped bottle. **technically not vegan if you use honey**
Monk Fruit – coming in both granule and syrup form, it’s the latest to hit the sweetener shelves. I’ve switched to this for all my baking endeavors. It’s not perfect, but it’s low glycemic, zero sugar, and natural source is a great option for those counting calories, on a keto diet protocol, or simply want a different taste option from stevia.
Coconut or Date Sugar – these are more pure and natural, but they DO contain sugar and have a glycemic impact, albeit not nearly as bad as refined white sugar.
Maple or Agave Syrup – these are high glycemic, so use in moderation. I do not recommend these, but the taste of this elixir can be a deterrent to many, so just a small amount can go a long way in helping it go down. Always use organic.
Best of luck with your concoction! You can add, subtract, and do your own customizations. It’s good to keep things fresh by altering the recipe from time to time. This will help with the monotony of drinking the same thing every day. I do, however, keep a few of the staple ingredients all the time – Apple Cider Vinegar, turmeric, ginger, black pepper, lemon. Feel free to comment here to ask questions or chime in on how your own health elixir turned out.
You are not special. There, I said it. This applies not only to the self-proclaimed “exceptional & unique” millenials, but all other generations of humans as well. The society we live in where everyone thinks they are a golden goose, an extraordinary snowflake unlike that which mankind has ever seen before, has created an environment of self-centered selfishness that has crept in and permeated every facet of our existence. Everything from celebrating “your special day” by arbitrarily commemorating the moment upon which you began to breathe oxygen on this plane of existence, to countless selfies and self-important videos uploaded to social networks at inconceivable rates. It is a plague for which mankind will suffer the consequences for centuries, eventually devolving into our own demise, unless we do something about it.
You are not special. You are a carbon-based mass of cells and atoms that has formed and evolved over millennia to become an efficient use of this environment’s resources. That’s it. Because you happen to be Homo sapiens does not give you any special rights or superiority over anything or anyone. This obsession we have with cultural rituals that place each other on pedestals is absurd if you really examine them, merely inflating already oversized human egos.
You are not special. Regardless of whatever religious affiliation’s misinterpretation of their text has brainwashed you into thinking, you are not a demi-god blessing the earth with your presence. You are a part of this world, this universe, made from the same elements and particles as comets and asteroids, rocks on Mars and ice on Pluto. A couple of minor molecular differences manifested in our species evolving as a life form that we assume to be “intelligent”, but that is just our myopic perception of it.
You are not special. What if I were to tell you that the rocks in your front yard, the trees, the squirrel running across the neighbor’s roof, the worm burrowing through your flower garden, are all just as intuitive and “intelligent” as us? This may sound trippy and existential, but put your human logic aside for a moment and really open your mind to other possibilities. It is just a matter of perspective. From the POV of the worm or the squirrel, or the rock, they are the “intelligent” beings perfectly executing their purpose for which they evolved. They are the culmination of billions of years of evolution to arrive at that moment to do and be exactly what they are. And in terms of the POV of the universe itself, we all exist as intended, in a harmony of sorts. The bombastic audacity of humans to assume the invisible throne as masters of the universe denies this harmony, causing ripples of dissonance around us. The result is an energetic discord that never-endingly attempts to self-correct. It is that energetic conflict which fuels the fire of our egoistic and venal culture.
You are not special. Sorry, but your lovely little baby, beautiful as they are, is not the most precious cherub to ever walk the face of the earth. Your child, although special to you personally, is a combination of cells and subatomic particles. And through the magic of procreation… which is something we still don’t really know anything about, your child becomes another bunch of cells dividing and expanding. What really happens when the sperm enters the egg and creates the zygote? We have no idea how that spark of life unites these two elements, but it happens everyday… and with flowers, trees, squirrels, and even allegedly benign materials too. The miracle of life is fascinating indeed, but certainly not unique to Homo sapiens.
You are not special. Let’s expand this idea of life to the furthest corners of the universe. We are but a small spec in that landscape. If you think we are the only life forms capable of “thought” or “intelligence”, then you, my friend, have succumbed to the egocentrism of the Earth bound human race. Surely the vastness of this universe would manifest in all sorts of iterations of what could be defined as “life”. As of now, we don’t have solid scientific proof of it, yet, but using common sense and imagination, one can quickly deduce that a trillion light years from here there is a planet not too dissimilar from ours or perhaps drastically different from ours with forms of life that we can’t even understand or conceptualize. Sci-fi movies and the like are riddled with bipedal, humanoid aliens because that is what is most palatable to most people’s cognitive capability. But recently, the film “Arrival” went a little further with their “aliens” who looked and behaved very differently from us, yet were quite “intelligent”. And I loved how they explored the concept of time not existing, since time is just a man made notion anyway. Who’s to say the same isn’t true for elephants or dolphins? Both are very “intelligent” species, at least from our perspective of measuring and assessing it, capable of complex social interaction and logic. And we are constantly discovering more and more about animals and how they behave on an intuitive and energetic level. To assume that we deserve more priority over them because we are at the top of the “food chain”, capable of inventing machines that destroy the very home planet we live on is preposterous. Yet daily we blindly play into this, get into our fossil fuel based transportation devices that do nothing but destroy our environment. We eat food that comes from an industry which is extinguishing environmental resources, torturing other beings and monopolizing precious land and habitats. We pollute every corner of this earth with our materialistic obsession over useless things. I could go on and on, but the point is this: Is our action and behavior really intelligence?
You are not special. You are a cog in the wheel of the universe. And right now, the human cog is defective and in need of a major redesign. Luminaries such as the Buddha or Gandhi have attempted to communicate similar ideas to mankind, but their messages mostly fall on deaf ears, sadly. And I do not mean to devalue certain extraordinary accomplishments of specific humans throughout history. The actions they’ve taken are certainly special, unique and wonderful. But it does not change anything about the fact they themselves are just matter and energy manifesting in the human form. Some may call the energy component a “soul”, which is fine if that helps you wrap your mind around it. But know then, that everything around us also has souls.
You are not special. The most intelligent we can be is to leave our environment, both physically and energetically, the same or more enriched than when we arrived and to protect and preserve the harmony of the universal subsistence of life. The key to a flourishing existence in harmony with all that surrounds us is compassion. Through compassion we find love. And through love, we become one with everything around us. This idea is at the core of every religious text ever written, yet human egos warp their meanings to fit their selfish agendas and greed. Our society’s cynical attitude and denigration towards compassion when it should be the very fuel that drives and ennobles us, is the dissonance we see manifesting daily. All religions boil down to this core truth – compassion into love. We are all connected by it and to everything around us, from the dirt and grass you walk on to the oxygen particles you breathe. Acknowledgment and respect for this universal truth would take us very far, collectively, in advancing towards peaceful harmony. But instead, we are slinging arrows of hate towards one another, slaughtering other beings, and destroying our home. This is the exact opposite of what we should be doing, and accordingly, we are heading in the wrong direction.
The Golden Rule
“Compassion is aptly summed up in the Golden Rule, which asks us to look into our own hearts, discover what gives us pain, and then refuse, under any circumstance whatsoever, to inflict that pain on anybody else. Compassion can be defined, therefore, as an attitude of principled, consistent altruism.” -Karen Armstrong, brainpickings.com
You are not special. My belief is that we are born with this instinctual knowledge, connected and intertwined with the fabric of the universe. And our society beats it out of us from just about every angle, unless you consciously swim against the stream, aware and deliberate. Recently we celebrated my daughter’s birthday. And as I hypocritically and reluctantly acquiesced to pressures from family members, I did not understand how or why she developed a fascination with birthdays. I realized it must be from school and other exposures to this cultural ritual, because it is certainly not something we had ever emphasized. But later in the day, something quite beautiful happened. We sat at the dinner table and she began using play-dough to “make” little birthday cupcakes with “candles” and wanted us to sing Happy Birthday for basically everyone that she knew. Mama, Papa, our dog, uncles, aunts, grandparents, close friends. She proceeded to say that it’s not just her birthday, it’s everyone’s birthday. That pure sentiment really touched and inspired me. It’s as if she intuitively knew that it’s not all about her, but rather about all of us. If there were a way to harness her joy and purity in that moment of sharing the bliss of a Happy Birthday sentiment with everyone, and inject it into humans all over the world, we would be much closer to life in harmony.
UNIVERSAL LAW OF HARMONY:
This law supersedes even the fundamental law of Karma, for harmony is the supreme potential of balance.
The purpose of Karma is to attain harmony.
If you throw a rock into a pond, you disturb the harmony of the pond, you are the cause, the effect is the splash and the ripples that flow out and back until harmony is restored.
Similarly, your disharmonious actions flow out into the Universe and back upon you, lifetime after lifetime, until eventually your own harmony is restored.
You are not special. We are in drastic need of a course correction and it starts with the individual. Each person’s acceptance and embracement of love and unity will bring us all together in a way that has only been dreamt about in utopic ideals. If we think not only about our own personal preservation and flourishing, but also take into account the prosperity of everyone and everything around us, the only direction we can move in is to abundantly thrive, together, as one. I think we’re capable of it, do you?
You are not special. We are all one.
DISCLAIMER: I am not preaching from a pulpit about this. I, too, am a guilty hypocrite when it comes to this issue. I succumb to societal, familial, and peer pressures, and by no means am I anywhere in the realm of perfect. BUT, that being said, the first step is awareness, followed by action. I have become aware and have taken whatever actions have been possible for me on my journey thus far and will continue to do so. The intention of this post is to bring awareness with the hopes of inspiring people taking action.
Great post by Brainpickings.com: https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/01/08/karen-armstrong-compassion/
Every four years I huddle around the television, glued to the stories of triumph and tragedy. Well, if you factor in the winter Olympics, it’s every two years now, but for the purposes of this post, I’m focusing on the summer Olympics. I leave inspired by the achievements of these great athletes and wonder if I could have had the level of commitment it would take to reach the elite levels of athletic competitiveness in any sport. I love watching the stories of how these phenoms developed and worked to get where they are, with some of those stories ending in victory, some not so much.
Simone Biles’ story comes to mind. Her level of gymnastic perfection is unparalleled and a mere five years ago she was not even on the radar. Kerri Walsh’s beach volleyball dominance is another. Usain Bolt’s sprinting supremacy is mind blowing. And of course one cannot discuss the Olympics and not mention the ultimate reign of Michael Phelps and his medal horde, a feat that will most likely never be matched.
And then they run a promo for upcoming events and they mention table tennis, badminton, trampoline, and shooting events. I always do a double take when that happens because the athlete inside of me cannot believe that these are “Olympic” events. I don’t mean to demean their qualifications as legitimate sports, but one cannot help but wonder where the Olympic organization will draw the line. In my opinion, there are just too many Olympic events and the breadth of events has gotten out of control.
Let’s take a look at this in further detail. The ancient Olympic games first began as one foot race on one day… basically back and forth once through the stadium. The race was called “stadion”, the word that eventually became “stadium” where we hold these athletic contests. Eventually the games expanded for five days of events with everything from racing to boxing, wrestling, discus, javelin, chariot races, jumping, running with armor and shields (can we bring this back please?!) and a few other basic athletic events, not a ping or a pong among them.
When they renewed the games in 1896, they began with a humble collection of sports, not too dissimilar from the original events, and of course sprinkled with the then “modern” sporting events. The events in the renewed games in Athens covered sports in track-and-field, swimming, gymnastics, cycling, wrestling, weightlifting, fencing, shooting, and tennis. As the games progressed and gained international support, notoriety, and acclaim, more and more events were added. Which brings us to the obnoxious maelstrom of “sporting” events we have today.
I will make a side note that from 1912 to 1948 they included “artistic competition” events that included many artistic pursuits including painting, architecture, music, and more. This was eventually removed due to the logistics in organizing it and it’s non-adherence to many of the Olympic principals and distracting focus from the games as an athletic competition festival. From 1952 onwards, there has been an art festival in the host city of the games to run concurrently as a compromise to losing the art competition portion of the games they wanted to include. The art festival was and is a great idea in my opinion. And I also think several of the Olympic “sporting events” should be held as artistic exhibition performances in the art festival instead of competitive events.
Olympic Event Elimination
While it’s understandable and expected for the Olympic event expansion to grow along with the logistic, financial, and societal capabilities and expectations, there seems to be no end in sight to what they will include. I soon expect Underwater Basket Weaving to become an Olympic event in the near future. Do we really need golf, table tennis, badminton, and trampoline as Olympic events? My interpretation of the Olympics is that it is a festival of athletic competitive events that test the physical athleticism in particular sporting disciplines that test the limits of the human body. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not downplaying the validity of these other sports, but I do think the Olympics has way too many events and should have some sort of limit or discretion when choosing events.
With this in mind, I’ve selected events that I think should be removed from the games, as well as events that I think are on the line and could be removed, but also could remain.
Suggested Olympic Events to be Removed:
- Table Tennis – Come on, it’s a trivial leisure game. Yes, it requires a specific skill, hand-eye coordination, and at the higher levels, physicality can be a component, but it’s just silly to have it in there.
- Trampoline – Don’t think I need to explain this one. Ridiculous that it’s in there.
- Badminton – Again, a leisure game to be played at beaches and backyards, certainly not an Olympic event!
- Race Walking – I think hands down, this is the lamest “event” currently in the Olympics. It’s like having a contest to see who can whisper the loudest. Superbly idiotic for this to even be a competitive “sport”. Just go for a walk if you want to walk. If you want to compete for time and speed, then RUN Forrest RUN!
- Synchronized Anything – swimming, diving, etc. – Although I think synchronized swimming is a beautiful art form that does indeed require quite a bit of physical capability and stamina, it shouldn’t be a competitive sport in the summer Olympics. If you’re going to have this event, then why not Ballroom Dancing? It’s the same idea. Neither should be in there because they are more of an artistic endeavor rather than an athletic competitive event. Yes, gymnastics overlaps this idea a bit, but overall, the athletics involved with gymnastics as well as its history can allow for a little bit of the artistry to slip in there. Synchronized diving, although quite athletic, is just superfluous and unnecessary. There’s already a ton of diving events, no need for this at all.
- Rhythmic Gymnastics – as previously mentioned, it’s just too artistic and seems like an unnecessary extra facet of gymnastics to include when the regular gymnastics is comprehensive enough to satiate the gymnastics discipline.
- All shooting events – Ok, so this one will be controversial, but hear me out. Although there have been shooting events since the 1896 games, I think it should be taken out. It’s more of a specific skill rather than a competitive athletic endeavor. Aside from that, there’s the moral implications of exalting someone for being skilled with a device intended for killing. I think society has progressed past this and the Olympics should reflect that morality. Taking out all gun related events would make a statement and also put more focus back on the athletics.
- All horse/equestrian events – again, this might seem extreme to some, but I have my justifications. Yes, the original ancient games had chariot races so horses were used (and I’m sure they were abused, injured, and killed along the way as well). But this is not a good reason to continue the equestrian portion of the games. I honestly enjoy watching those beautiful beasts jumping and trotting around, but isn’t the animal doing most of the work? How does this test the human athleticism? Just doesn’t seem to fit with everything else. And when you factor in the abuse and exploitation of the horses, again, I think we have collectively evolved past this and don’t need to include this in the games that represent the collective human competitive spirit.
On The Fence:
- Sailing – This discipline (there are multiple sailing events), although interesting and requiring both a specific skill as well as some physicality, just doesn’t seem like it fits in the whole realm of “athletic competition”. That being said, there’s something about the history of sailing and man’s capability to circumnavigate the globe via sailing, thus bringing us all together which kind of flows with the historical spirit of the games. But if it was up to me, I’d cut it, but I do see strengths in keeping it too.
- Cycling – Not all cycling events, however. I think the road and track cycling events are OK, but anything else just seems unnecessary and superfluous – BMX, Mountain Biking, etc., just don’t need it. Again, if it was up to me, I’d cut all cycling out altogether and just keep it in the Triathlon, but I do see some positive points to keeping the road and track events in there.
- Golf – I’m just not a big fan of this sport, and while it is technically a sport, I log it in as maybe one notch over badminton. Not really something super athletically competitive, although it admittedly has an athletic component. It’s kind of just a leisure sport that requires specific skills that aren’t particularly athletic. It’s on the fence for me only because it is so widely played throughout the world, so perhaps there’s something to be said about universal appeal. But once again, if it’s up to me, cut it, totally excessive.
Sports I’d Like to See Added:
- Surfing – Not only super athletic and challenging, but it adds a modern sport in there that gives the games an updated relevance while adhering to the spirit of the games. I can see the point of view regarding the judged aspect of it, but think of it like gymnastics in the water while on a board. Cool, interesting, and definitely athletic.
- Baseball/Softball – This is a team sport that is enjoyed by hundreds of millions. I think they may of cut it out because there’s only a handful of countries that are even capable of fielding a team – US, Japan, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Canada, Mexico, S. Korea – maybe a few more I’m probably missing, but certainly not a huge pool of internationally competitive teams. So I understand the reasoning behind removing it, but I’d still like to see it.
- Pankration (or Mixed Martial Arts) – Pankration was an original Ancient Olympics event and I think with not only the popularity of MMA, but the historical relevancy, plus the obvious clear athletic competitiveness, I think it would be a great addition to the games.
As an overall note, I think for the sporting disciplines that I haven’t mentioned at all that are great in the games, there could be some reduction in the number of events. Sometimes it seems like there’s so many distances and team/individual versions of some of the disciplines, it’s just so puffed up that the focus get’s blurry. Let’s keep things honed, lean, and super focused on the athletic competition of it all and in the spirit of the
Olympic motto: “Faster, Higher, Stronger”
NOTE: If you haven’t read PART 1, you can read it here
As I hinted at in my PART 1 of this post, I was hopeful that the latter half of this segment of my quest would deliver more fruit in terms of my family history and genealogy research. The trials and tribulations of mining through the nebulous records of a foreign country with only basic understanding of the language have proven difficult, but not as much as the clerical and logistical roller coaster. The amount of hoops one must jump through in order to find a morsel of information is frustrating to say the least.
That being said, it’s still pretty amazing to think that they have records in books from hundreds of years ago that were kept intact throughout the Napoleonic, Venetian, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, and Communist rule and occupations. In a land that has been split up, torn apart and put back together again many times in the past several hundred years, it’s a wonderment that one can find any records whatsoever. But alas, here we are in 2016, and I’m about to walk into one of the satellite records Archives offices in Varaždin.
What I quickly learned on my journey is that there are several satellite archive offices scattered around different regions of Croatia which hold archival records from each respective region (roughly pre-1900). Those records go back approximately 50 or 100 years. Anything older than that is stored in the main archives in Zagreb. Incidentally, that’s where my journey started, and might be where it ends too… we shall see.
The Quest Continues
I woke up in the morning at my Croatian countryside cabin nestled in the vineyard and noticed a drizzle from the sky and one of the most stunning rainbows I’d ever seen, encircling the breadth of the landscape, a multicolor streak serving as a welcome banner to the region of my ancestors. If I was looking for a sign from the universe that I was on the right track, this would most assuredly be it!
Leaving the country vineyard cabin behind was tough, but I had to stay steadfast on my mission, to the archives or bust! I pulled into the parking lot next to an old building with a Croatian flag, the consistent symbol adorning the plethora of government offices I’d been to over the past several years.
The Archives in Varaždin
After managing to find a few people that spoke a little bit of English, one of them quite well, I was able to communicate what I wanted to the gentleman and take a sigh of relief because I was off the hook as far as language barrier, thank goodness. They explained to me that there were several possible stashes of archival books where I might be able to find information from my family. From the long list they picked out, I had a strong sense that I would never get all that done in one day and unfortunately it was a Friday and I was leaving for the coast later that evening. No matter… I would plow through as much as I could and see what I could find.
They took me up to a second level into a room with a really large wooden table with shelves of old books… was this the Croatian Hogwart’s library? I was given a pair of white gloves to put on so the oils from my hands wouldn’t damage the old, weathered pages. We discussed which book to bring out first and decided on the books from the Zagorje region. He left to get them from the library stash while I took obligatory selfies.
Accompanying him upon his return was an old, large leather-bound book with parchment pages. Definitely the most epic book I’d ever touched! He showed me the columns of information, what they meant, and how to look for the information relating to my family. It was like searching for a needle in a haystack… handwritten Croatian script writing of names, dates, and places, a sea of words and letters within which I’d have to recognize the names from my family tree.
Searching Through the History Books
I began to carefully turn the pages, scanning all the columns, one by one. It was quite cumbersome, yet intriguing, satiating a curiosity for knowledge and history. And then something really interesting happened… I started noticing patterns in the entries. I began to recognize other family names and their relations and their matching addresses. I was able to pull out little stories from the sea of writing. Turns out back then a lot of families lived on the same land, so there were addresses with several lines of a family listed as having been born there.
For example, there were two back-to-back birth entries, both boys born on the same day at the same address but different parents. Then I noticed the fathers had the same last name, and the sons had the same names as the other one’s father. So, what I deduced was two brothers that lived at the same address had their sons on the same day and they named their sons after one another. How endearing is that? Proof of the strength of family bonds in this region and the anchor that knowledge of one’s family ties has in this culture. There were several other really cool stories I pulled out while scanning the books, but that was the most charming to me.
Every 10 or 15 minutes I’d find an entry that I thought was related to me, but then we’d dig through the papers to verify and it would be disproven. As time ticked away, new books would be brought out, birth records, death records, marriage records, all from the various regions I requested. I painstakingly sifted through every page for clues, sometimes twice just in case, like a genealogical sleuth searching for the truth. The other workers mentioned that they were going to get a coffee and a bite to eat and they invited me to go along. I thanked them, but insisted that I stay, despite the fact that I hadn’t eaten, drank or visited the bathroom since 8 AM and it was now pushing 2 PM. They were impressed with my commitment and resolution, but I was committed to finding a shred of SOMETHING from my family history before their closing time at 4 PM. One of the kind gentleman agreed to stay with me and help search, he too knew I would never get through even half the books on my own, with his help, we could get maybe 75% of it done.
About 30 minutes later, we found something… an entry that seemed to match my grandfather’s mother. We didn’t know much about her or her parents, not even their names, so this would be a big find. Sure enough, we verified it, it was indeed her! A big sigh of relief as the time was coming to an end. With a fifth wind kicking in, fueled by this awesome find, I kept sifting through the books as fast as I could for as long as they’d allow me to stay there. And just before they were about to shut me down…bam! I found another entry… the name of my grandmother’s father, address matched, seemed to be the one… woohoo!!! (Note: later I was to find out that the second family record I found might not be correct, although the verification of that is still ongoing).
With a sense of success and achievement, we scurried down the stairs with the books in hand and over to the first guy I spoke to who had to verify everything and punch it into a program to generate a certificate for me to take home as proof of the family line. And just like that, the family tree was extended another generation back and I had the information I needed to dig around the archives in Zagreb. There are still more books to go through and more family lines to trace, so the search in Varaždin is not complete, I indeed shall return to those old books one day.
The Result: A Few Steps Closer to Identity
Before I left, I profusely thanked all of the workers that assisted me, especially the guy that helped me look through the books. He also gave me the names of the parishes in the regions I was searching so I could contact the priests and see if they have any additional information to offer. Apparently the churches in each region used to keep most of the records and that is how a lot of these books survived all the wars and flip flopping back and forth. Very cool, another trail to explore!
Although my journey is not finished, there was a big sense of relief leaving there with new information. My efforts had not been in vain and I was getting results. Finding one key opened another mystery that must be solved… I felt like I was on a scavenger hunt or in a Sherlock Holmes novel that revolved around my family tree. With each step back to my car, I could feel a stronger sense of who I was with pride knowing that I came from such a deep history and that I’d played an important part in uncovering some of it.
The following evening when I was in Dubrovnik, I had dinner with some friends who lived there. One was a local from Dubrovnik and we were talking about my quest when she kind of giggled. I asked her what was so funny about it and she said my story was so interesting to her because she never really thinks about her ancestors. “If I want to know anything, I would just go over that hill to the cemetery and find out everything I want to know. I just know they’re there, so I don’t worry too much about it”. When she said that, I knew why I had a burning inside to know who my ancestors were, and that was good enough for me to fuel the remaining quests.
In the future I intend to return to Zagreb and dig through those archives. I also intend to go back to Varaždin and see what else I can find. Once all is said and done and I’ve traced the line as far as I can, I plan to switch over to my paternal side and see what traces I can find in India, which will undoubtedly warrant it’s own posts when the time comes.
Perhaps this post will have a part 3 or 4, I’m not sure where the journey will go, and to me, that’s one of the most exciting aspects of this whole genealogical quest.
NOTE: My First Blog Post
Nestled amidst symmetrical rows of grapevines on a small vineyard on one of the many rolling rural hills of the Zagorje region of Croatia, I’m writing my first blog post. I’ve been wanting to start a blog for awhile now, as a means by which to express ideas, commentary and exposition on topics that not only interest me, but also to spark intellectual discussions, enrich the reader with newfound information, or simply share stories that I feel are compelling and inspiring. With this first entry of what I hope will be many, I want to share the journey I’ve been on for years, but particularly this most recent trip to Croatia.
I’m currently on a quest to see how far back I can trace my familial maternal line of Croatian heritage. Delving into one’s genealogical history can reveal insights into one’s origins, ultimately and ideally revealing more about you as a person. Having a sense of identity can ground you in place, time, and history and offer perspective about the journey of humanity and the purpose of life. It sounds obscure and grandiose, but stick with me here, it gets even more fun.
Tracing a family history via genealogy research in a country like Croatia that has been war torn for centuries, flip-flopping invaders since the Middle Ages, can be extremely challenging and cumbersome. Just when you think there’s light at the end of the tunnel, you hit a roadblock that can discourage and derail the journey. Vex not oh weary traveler, for what you seek may lie just over the next hill of red tape. The rules and regulations of a country still in transition towards the technological conveniences of modern record keeping are perplexing and mind bending. From my experience, it’s best to just accept them and take what you can get, go with the flow, and when all else fails, charm their socks off with your foreign swagger.
Although I grew up with a strong connection to my Croatian heritage, I did not pick up certain specific cultural attributes, namely the language, but also other inherent cultural idiosyncrasies that are important when planning an immersive experience. How am I going to get through this? What if they don’t speak any English? What if this was a total waste of time and energy? What if…. What if…. What if…. You can drive yourself bonkers with fear driven “What If’s…”, but the bottom line is that you just have to grow a pair, suck it up and get in that car, plane, boat, hovercraft, and go for it, if the interest compels you.
The First Stop – The Office of Birth and Death Records in Lepoglava
Today I was a little bit nervous approaching the records office in Lepoglava where my grandfather was born and raised (and also happens to be where Croatia’s main prison is located, offering a creepy and terrifying backdrop to the situation). I fumbled through a rickety door into the mostly dull 1960s communist era office and managed to ask (in Croatian) the innocuous elderly lady seated at the desk if she speaks English. She replied with an adamant “Ne” (or “no”), prompting me to break out into a nervous sweat with dry mouth setting in, “oh crap, what do I do now?”
The Google Translate app had been my crutch, but my phone was almost dead and would only have enough juice to get me through the very beginning of this conversation, then what?? With my rudimentary Croatian skills, I dug in and proceeded to explain what I wanted. She seemed to understand and softened, her once hard exterior released to a more open and understanding energy. Then came the super-speed downpour of Croatian technical, legal, and political ramblings that would have even a native speaker scratching their head. Thirty minutes later, with the help of some improvised sign language, a lifeline phone call to a cousin in Zagreb, and some guesswork, we were on the same page. I sat down to wipe the sweat pouring off my forehead, my brain exhausted from the ultra, super, focused conversation plus the remnants of jetlag. I could feel my desire for a Croatian coffee increase with every tick of the second hand. My Croatian caffeine addiction was revving its engines and would be in full swing soon enough. Although I generally abstain from coffee whilst stateside, why fight it… when in Rome, or Croatia, right?
Several hours later after a few more red tape hoops to jump through, which included me having to purchase a special government payment stamp from a nearby post-office (a side excursion that could warrant its own blog post), we were ready to get our hands dirty and dig. An hour or so later I left that records office having seen the actual birth logbook entry from 1914 when my grandfather’s birth was recorded over one hundred years ago. I sat on a nearby bench overlooking the town and took a deep breath, acknowledging that I’d had a pretty special moment. Somehow walking on streets and sidewalks in the town my grandfather walked on as a child and sleuthing out this record felt like life was coming full circle in a way. Somehow those pen marks on that old, weathered, faded yellow paper made me feel like I belonged to a deep history of people, a verification of sorts, and my curiosity wants to know how far back that trail goes. Will it venture into France? Austria? Stay in the same region of Croatia? I was dying to know, and my journey tomorrow will hopefully bear more discoveries.
I was also excited to learn that my great grandmother was a school headmaster and her husband, my great grandfather, a teacher. An interesting dynamic for a couple in late 1800s Eastern Europe! It’s no wonder their son, my grandfather, was so well educated with multiple degrees, spoke ten languages, and was well read way beyond his class level. Is my never-ending, unquenchable pursuit of knowledge, the drive within that led to my love for school and acquisition of two master’s degrees, an energetic or genetic result of their union? As the mystery unfolds with each kernel of information uncovered, I am riveted and can’t wait to find out more, not only for myself, but for my whole extended family, my offspring, and generations to come.
The fact that this is only 50% of what makes up my genetic code is mind boggling to me. There’s a whole other world of my heritage that I haven’t even begun to look into yet. Why is it that in the US, the world’s melting pot, we don’t have as tight of a grasp on our family histories as they do elsewhere in the world? The idea of knowing your genealogical history is a much more ingrained part of the cultures in other countries across the globe, but in the US, a relatively young country made up entirely of immigrants (unless you are of Native American descent), the line is often harder to trace. Of course there are exceptions of those that can trace back to their ancestors who arrived on the Mayflower, and those that can go even further, but for the most part, people can only go back a few generations, perhaps well into the 1800s. But it is not uncommon for the family trees of non-North American inhabitants to go back several centuries. How does this affect our culture here vs. there? Does the US adoption rate (both domestic and international) add to the faded records of our collective past? Thoughts to ponder as my research continues.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines Identity as: The fact of being who or what a person or thing is
The very definition of the word invokes a subconscious feeling of innate stability and groundedness, without which beseeches a yearning to know and find “what a person..is” by tracing familial roots or other means, perhaps through spiritual, practical, vocational, etc. For me, the further back I am able to trace my roots, the more deeply connected I feel towards who I am and where I come from, with the hopes of gaining insight on where I want to be or confirmation on where I am. As humans, we are interconnected energetically, physically, and genetically, whether we want to be or not. We are an accumulation of energetic combinations over the course of time, and to be completely blind or ignorant of that history is leaving a large piece of the “identity” puzzle out of the equation for yourself and subsequent generations. By seeking out my heritage, discovering the history, and solving the mysteries of who I am, I intend to tap into that connected energy through revelation, discovery, and always learning with humility and openness.
The Search Continues
Seek whatever ye shall find, find whatever ye shall be, and be whatever ye shall become.
Am I shackled by the idea of knowing my pedigree? Absolutely not, of course I’m confident in who I am and the life I have and would surely survive without knowing more. But will the fruits of this journey hopefully add to the understanding of my life and those of my relatives? I certainly hope so. And I also acknowledge that this quest is probably connected to a means of mourning the loss of my mother, as well as my grandparents, at a relatively younger age than most people. It’s been 6 years since she’s been gone, and I feel like researching these roots, something both she and her father always wanted to do but never did, is somehow bringing me closer to them, an homage to their, and my own, pursuit of identity. I could get into the history of Croatia, the communist regime of Yugoslavia, my mother and her family being displaced during WWII and marring their sense of identity while they desperately searched the world for a place to set new roots, but I will save some of that for the part 2 of this post.
I wait with baited breath for what secrets and mysteries the Croatian Archives in Varaždin have in store for me. Will light be shed onto my own enigmas? Or will it lead me to yet another step of discovery? Or will it be the dead end of the quest? The truths lie within, and only 50 km, a language barrier, mountains of red tape, and tenacity will come into play in determining success or failure.
On this Father’s Day, I’m faced with a unique experience of it being my first without my father around while simultaneously being my first as a new father (to a human child that is, love ya Murph-dog!). A melding of various emotions, memories, both new and old dance circles around my thoughts. There exists an unsettled dissonance as I come to terms with the fragility and finality of life whilst embracing the new adventures that come along with the breaking dawn of a new one. Torn between the loss of the memories yet to come that I will never share with my late parents, yet thankful for the ones I already have that taught me the lessons the universe needed me to know and have made me who I am at this moment. Thank you Dad for all the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful. I’m the better man and father for it.
When I’m in need of guidance, I like to look to nature. I recently read a post about male red foxes and how they not only tend to their foxy lady mamas constantly so the mama fox can tend to their adorable baby foxes, but they also teach valuable life lessons to their young. For the first month after the female gives birth, the father provides her with food every 4-6 hours so she can stay in the den to feed the young and keep them warm. When the offspring are older and able to scurry about, Papa Fox spends endless hours playing with his critters. When they’re about 3 months old, the father starts to teach them valuable life lessons. For instance, he will bury food under leaves and twigs around the den and encourage the offspring to find it, thus teaching them how to sniff out food and forage. These daddy foxes embrace their new role as fathers with an instinctual bliss and responsibility, no “how to” books, no Red Fox YouTube channel to refer to. They just naturally do what is right for their children.
I hope I’ll be able to trust my innate fatherly instincts and rise to the occasion like the male red fox. I hope I’ll be able to improve on the positive lessons I learned from my dad and not repeat the mistakes he made along the way. I hope.
I look forward to many more Father’s Days to come as I reflect on those that have passed. As with all new dads, the term “father” takes on a whole new meaning that one can only truly understand by becoming one. Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, old and new. RIP Dad, wish you could have met your granddaughter, she’s an amazing beam of light, an old soul that is sure to to teach me as many lessons about life as I will be sure to teach her.